THE PERFECT AGE by Heather Skyler


Email this review


The evolution of a Las Vegas family over the course of three summers, as marked by the adolescent daughter’s job as a lifeguard.

Constructed a little too neatly in three acts, almost as if emotions go on hiatus during the nine months between summers, Skyler’s debut opens with a season of sexual awakening. When she begins her lifeguard job at the Dunes Hotel, 15-year-old Helen has recently acquired her first boyfriend. Leo, from a financially struggling family shattered by divorce, is drawn to the stability of Helen’s educated, upper-class world. His appeal to her seems largely physical, and soon they’re having sex. Meanwhile, Helen’s mother Kathy, a third-grade teacher who feels stifled by her own marriage to buttoned-down ULV history professor Edward, begins an unlikely affair with earthy Dunes pool manager Gerard. The second summer finds mother and daughter embroiled in their individual sexual complications and ensuing moral dilemmas. Confused by the extreme swing of her feelings toward Leo, Helen almost elopes with him yet drifts into casual sex with another lifeguard. She witnesses her mother’s increasingly heated affair with Gerard, although Kathy denies it when confronted. By the third summer’s denouement, Gerard asks Kathy to choose between him and Edward, who suffers in patient silence. Helen is about to head off to college, and Leo is beginning to have realistic dreams of his own; they finally acknowledge that they have no future together. Other things end as well: Gerard dies of a heart attack, and the Dunes Hotel is imploded. Despite her tendency toward unnecessary literary allusion, Skyler sensitively explores family dynamics, particularly the line between privacy and secrecy. Even better is the pathos she brings to her portraits of Leo and Edward, supporting players who steal the show.

At times overly controlled, but rich in emotional density.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-393-05870-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2004